University of Maryland Extension

Burning Bush

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Burning Bush
(Euonymus alatus)

burning bush in a landscape
Winged burning bush (Euonymus alatus). Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

About Burning Bush: An Invasive Plant in Maryland


Life cycle/information:
Burning bush, also called winged euonymus or winged burning bush, is a deciduous, woody perennial shrub. It is native to Northeastern Asia, Japan, and Central China. It was introduced to the United States around 1860 for use in ornamental landscaping. In Maryland, it has been commonly used because of its hardiness, easy maintenance, fast-growing nature, and brilliant red fall foliage. Burning bushes have escaped cultivation and now compete with native vegetation in forests, fields, and coastal habitats where it can form dense thickets.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has named this a Tier 2 invasive plant. This classification means retail stores that offer this plant for sale must display a required sign indicating that it is an invasive plant. Landscapers may not supply winged burning bushes unless they provide the customer with a list of Tier 2 invasive plants.

burning bush flowers
Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Growth habit: Multi-stemmed, angular branching, deciduous invasive shrub. The stems have conspicuous corky wings. It typically grows 5 to 10 feet high and occasionally can reach 20 feet. Leaves are simple, elliptical, finely serrated, and arranged oppositely along the stems. Leaves are dark green turning to bright red in autumn. Produces inconspicuous greenish flowers in pairs in late spring and bright red-purple berries in late summer.

burning bush fall color
Photo: James H. Miller, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Reproduction: Produces a prolific amount of berries and the seeds can germinate both in sunny and shady conditions. In some situations, hundreds of seedlings can be found growing underneath the parent plant. Birds aid in seed dispersal. It also reproduces vegetatively by root suckering.

burning bush berries
Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org


Conditions that favor growth:
Tolerates full sun and full shade. Highly adaptable to many habitats.

burning bush infestation
Photo: Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

What to plant instead: Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica).

Controlling Winged Burning Bush

References

  • Burrell, C. Colston. 2007. Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants. Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
  • Kaufman, Sylvan Ramsey & Wallace Kaufman. 2007. Invasive Plants: Guide to Identification and the Impacts and Control of Common North American Species
  • Swearingen J., K. Reshetiloff, B. Slattery, and S. Zwicker. 2002. Plant Invaders of Mid-Atlantic Natural Areas. National Park Service and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Washington, DC.

Compiled by Christa Carignan, reviewed by Debra Ricigliano, University of Maryland Extension, 8/2018.

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